Guide to the Collection
|Title:|| DeGrasse-Howard papers
|Physical Description:|| 2
|Call Number:|| Ms. N-310
|Repository:||Massachusetts Historical Society
1154 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02215
This collection consists of manuscripts and family
papers relating to several African-American families, the DeGrasse, Howard,
Downing, and Asbury families. It also includes correspondence, newspaper
clippings, photocopies of published sources, and research notes about various
individuals in those families collected by Rev. Howard DeGrasse Asbury, a
Isaiah George DeGrasse
Isaiah George DeGrasse (1813-1841) was a minister. He was the son of Count
George DeGrasse and Margaret Van Surley DeGrasse and was born on 19 July 1813
in New York. Isaiah DeGrasse attended the New York African Free School. He was
ordained a deacon on 11 July 1838 by the bishop of the Protestant Episcopal
Church in St. Phillips Church, New York City. DeGrasse worked as a missionary
in Jamaica, where he died on 11 January 1841.
John Van Surly DeGrasse
John Van Surly DeGrasse (1825-1868) was a medical doctor. He was born in New
York in June 1825, the youngest son of Count George DeGrasse and Marie Van
Surly DeGrasse, and the grandson of the French Count [Francois Joseph Paul]
DeGrasse. He took some academic courses at a college in France, studied
medicine with Dr. Samuel R. Childs in New York City in 1845, and finished his
studies at Bowdoin College in May 1849, where he passed the required exams and
received a Doctor in Medicine degree. In 1849, DeGrasse toured hospitals in
France, England, Italy, and Switzerland.
DeGrasse married Cordelia L. Howard on 5 August 1852 in Boston and, two
years later, established a medical practice there. When he was elected to
membership in the Massachusetts Medical Society on 24 August 1854, he became
the first African American to belong to a medical association in that state. He
was the first African-American medical officer in the U.S. Army. He was
mustered in on 18 May 1863 and served as an assistant surgeon for the 35th
Regiment of U. S. Colored Infantry (the First Regiment, North Carolina, Colored
Volunteers). He and his wife had one daughter, Georgiana Cordelia DeGrasse,
born 5 December 1855. He died in Boston on 25 November 1868.
Edwin Clarence Howard
Edwin Clarence Howard (1846-1912) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His
parents were Edwin Frederick Howard of Boston and Joan Louise Turpin Howard of
New York City. (Edwin C. Howard was the nephew of Cordelia L. Howard DeGrasse.)
He attended Liberia College in Monrovia from 1861-1865, but withdrew from the
program before receiving a degree. In 1866, Howard attended Harvard University
Medical School and graduated in 1869. He practiced medicine in Philadelphia and
distinguished himself during the 1870 smallpox epidemic. He was a member of the
Philadelphia County Medical Society, the Pennsylvania State Medical Society,
and the American Medical Association. He was a visiting physician at the
Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and lecturer and chairman of the Nurses'
Training School. Dr. Howard never married. He was buried in Eden Cemetery in
Darby, located outside Philadelphia.
George T. Downing
George T. Downing (1819-1903) was a civil rights leader and successful
businessman. He was born in 1819, the son of Thomas Downing. He married Serena
Leanora DeGrasse on 24 November 1841, and they had 4 daughters and 3 sons.
George T. Downing was an abolitionist, actively worked towards school
desegregation, and was a spokesman who urged politicians to support the Civil
Rights Bill. Downing lived in Newport, R.I., where he had a catering business,
owned real estate, and made contributions towards civic improvements.
Howard DeGrasse Asbury
Howard DeGrasse Asbury (died ca. 1978?) was minister of the St. Paul
Methodist Church in Jamaica, New York. Interested in African-American history,
he actively collected information and manuscripts about his ancestors, who
included members of the DeGrasse, Howard, Downing, Gardner and Asbury families.
(Asbury was the great-grandson of John Van Surley DeGrasse and Cordelia L.
Howard DeGrasse.) He loaned materials to various institutions (including the
Brooklyn Public Library, New York Cultural Center, and Museum of Afro American
History in Boston, Mass.) for exhibitions about African Americans. He was a
member of the Negro History Associates.
The DeGrasse-Howard papers consist of two boxes of manuscripts and family
papers relating to several African-American families, the DeGrasse, Howard,
Downing, and Asbury families. The collection also includes correspondence,
newspaper clippings, photocopies of published sources, and research notes about
various individuals in those families collected by Rev. Howard DeGrasse Asbury,
a descendent. The collection is arranged in five series, DeGrasse family papers
and related materials, Howard family papers and related materials, Downing
family papers and related materials, and Rev. Howard D. Asbury papers.
The collection includes materials relating to medicine: an account book,
1852-55, kept by John Van Surley DeGrasse, a doctor who lived and practiced
medicine in Boston; papers relating to DeGrasse's service in the Civil War as a
medical doctor in the 35th Regiment, North Carolina Colored Infantry; and a
journal, 1865, kept by Edwin Clarence Howard while he was a medical student at
Liberia College. The collection includes correspondence to and from George T.
Downing about civil rights issues. Also contained in the collection are
clippings and letters documenting Reverend Howard DeGrasse Asbury's research
activities and participation with exhibits about African American history.
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) holds the following collections
related to the DeGrasse-Howard papers:
DeGrasse-Howard photographs, ca. 1861-1976. Photo. Coll. 36.
The DeGrasse-Howard papers were inherited by Mrs. Shirley Asbury Downs of
Austin, Texas, from her father Reverend Howard DeGrasse Asbury, who assembled
many of the documents in the collection. Mrs. Downs placed the collection on
loan to the Museum of Afro American History, and the Museum of Afro American
History deposited it at the Massachusetts Historical Society in July 1998. In
November 2012, the collection was given to the Massachusetts Historical Society
by Mrs. Downs' son Robert Downs.
The collection is organized into the following series:
|I. DeGrasse family papers and related materials, 1776-1968
|II. Howard family papers and related materials, 1852-1965
|III. Downing family papers and related materials, 1830-1925
|IV. Rev. Howard D. Asbury papers, 1950-1976
| A. Correspondence, 1958-1973
| B. Exhibit participation, 1961-1971
| C. Activities, 1950-1969
| D. Research materials, 1968-1976
|I. DeGrasse family papers and related materials,
This series consists of materials relating to the DeGrasse family, including
a document, 31 [September]1776, approving provisions used by officers on board
the L'Intrepide, signed by Le Comte de Grasse; and
John Van Surley DeGrasse's account book, 1852-1855, relating to his work as a
doctor in Boston listing the names of his patients, medical services provided,
and charges assessed. This series also contains materials relating to John
DeGrasse's enrollment in the 35th Regiment, North Carolina Colored Infantry
during the Civil War including a letter, 9 May 1863, from Lt. Col. James C.
Beecher to DeGrasse about when he was to report for duty, and a photocopy of
his muster roll. This series includes a typescript of a letter, 23 December
1866, from Charles Sumner to John DeGrasse, and autobiographical statements
written by John DeGrasse and his brother, Isaiah DeGrasse. This series also
contains newspaper clippings, copies of vital records and photocopies of
secondary sources about the DeGrasse family and their spouses.
|Box 1||Folder 1||Document approving provisions used by officers on board the
|Box 1||Folder 2||Account book, kept by Dr. John DeGrasse,
|Box 1||Folder 3||Photocopy of account book in Folder 2
|Box 1||Folder 4||Correspondence and documents relating to John DeGrasse,
|Box 1||Folder 5||Autobiographical statements written by John DeGrasse and Isaiah
|Box 1||Folder 6||Military orders to Assistant Surgeon J. V. DeGrasse,
9 May 1863
|Box 1||Folder 7||Newspaper clippings and printed matter on the DeGrasse family,
|Box 1||Folder 8||Vital records of DeGrasse family (certified copies made
|II. Howard family papers and related materials,
This series is primarily comprised of documents relating to Edwin Clarence
Howard, and includes his journal kept while attending Liberia College in 1865.
The journal has two pagination sequences and includes entries about his
activities (descriptions of visits to patients, mixing medicine, church
attendance) between 09 February and 27 June 1865; some of the journal is
written in code, and the journal also contains some transcriptions of poems and
notes about medical treatments. Additional materials relating to Howard's
education found in this series: autographs of faculty and students at Liberia
College, lecture admission cards for classes he attended while a student at
Harvard University, and a copy of the commencement program in 1869. This series
also contains newspaper clippings, copies of vital records and photocopies of
secondary sources about the Howard family and their spouses.
|Box 1||Folder 9||Journal of Edwin Clarence Howard at Liberia College,
|Box 1||Folder 10||Loose items from journal
|Box 1||Folder 11-13||Materials relating to Liberia College and Liberia,
|Box 1||Folder 14||Materials relating to Henry I. Bowditch, n.d.
|Box 1||Folder 15||Admission cards to medical school lectures which E. C. Howard
|Box 1||Folder 16||Program and documents relating to E. C. Howard and Addie Howard,
|Box 1||Folder 17||Newspaper clippings and printed matter about the Howard family,
|Box 1||Folder 18||Materials related to Edwin C. Howard (1846-1912)
|Box 1||Folder 19||Vital records of Howard family (certified copies made
|III. Downing family papers and related materials,
This series is primarily comprised of correspondence to George T. Downing
regarding his activities promoting equal rights, and family correspondence
between members of the Downing family. The correspondence sent to George T.
Downing include two typescripts of letters (29 May 1855 and 8 April 1872) from
Charles Sumner about equal rights, one letter (23 March 1869) from Charles
Lenox Remond lending support to a new newspaper in Washington, and one letter
(15 December 1885) from John Boyle O'Reilly thanking Downing for sending a
written argument about civil rights. Other letters include one (13 Feb. 1866)
from James Lynch (who eventually became the Secretary of State for Mississippi)
asking Downing to write for the Christian Recorder and two letters (12 October
1870 and 9 Nov. 1870) from Ebenezer Bassett, U.S. minister to Haiti, describing
his recent trips to the United States. This series also contains newspaper
clippings and photocopies of published sources about members of the Downing
family, including articles about Downing's presence at the side of Charles
Sumner when he died in 1874.
|Box 1||Folder 20-22||Downing family correspondence and other papers,
|Box 1||Folder 23||Newspaper clippings and printed matter about the Downing family,
|IV. Rev. Howard D. Asbury papers,
This series consists of materials relating to Reverend Asbury divided into
four subseries, Correspondence, Exhibitions, Activities, and Research
materials. The Correspondence includes letters to and from Asbury regarding his
ancestors, and from researchers wishing to publish manuscripts owned by him.
The Exhibitions folders contain clippings, press releases and photographs
documenting how Asbury loaned materials to exhibitions about African Americans
at various institutions. The Activities subseries includes newspaper clippings
and programs documenting Asbury's participation at meetings and commemorations.
The Research materials include a typescript, "State of Massachusetts Negro
Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution," prepared by Asbury from the
Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary
War, and photocopies of images, printed materials, notes about various
African Americans. (Please note: Research materials specifically relating to
the DeGrasse, Howard, Downing families are located in the previous series in
this collection corresponding to those families, Series I, II, and III.)
|Box 2||Folder 1-2|| A. Correspondence,
|Box 2||Folder 3-4|| B. Exhibit participation,
Included are newspaper clippings, programs, and other papers.
|Box 2||Folder 5|| C. Activities,
Included are letters and clippings.
| D. Research materials,
|Box 2||Folder 6-10||Typescripts, Negro Soldiers and Sailors of
the American Revolution
|Box 2||Folder 11||Letter and attachment,
|Box 2||Folder 12||Research notes
|Box 2||Folder 13||Facsimile bank notes,
DeGrasse-Howard papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in
the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers
desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should
search the catalog using these headings.
| Asbury, Howard DeGrasse.
| Bassett, Ebenezer D., 1833-1908.
| DeGrasse, Cordelia Howard, b. 1823.
| DeGrasse, John Van Surley, 1825-1868.
| DeGrasse family.
| DeGrasse family--Genealogy.
| Downing, George T. (George Thomas), 1819-1903.
| Downing family.
| Downing family--Genealogy.
| Howard, Edwin Clarence, 1846-1912.
| Howard family.
| Howard family--Genealogy.
| Lynch, James, 1839-1872.
| O'Reilly, John Boyle, 1844-1890.
| Remond, Charles Lenox, 1810-1873.
| Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874.
| Liberia College.
| United States. Army. Colored Infantry Regiment,
| Account books.
| Account books--1850-1899.
| Account books--1852-1855.
| African American abolitionists.
| African American families.
| African American physicians.
| African Americans--Civil rights.
| African Americans--Exhibitions.
| African Americans--History.
| African Americans--Rhode Island.
| Medical education.
| Medical fees.
Photographs from this collection were removed to the DeGrasse-Howard
photographs, ca. 1861-1976. Photo. Coll. 36.